The Positive Power of Negative Emotions

…and how they link to your spine.

Negative emotions (anger, rage, shame, sorrow, etc.), uncomfortable though they can seem, can be powerful tools to end disease. Emotion-affecting molecules called neuropeptides enable the immune system to launch a well-coordinated attack on “non-self” cells—in other words, bacteria, virus, parasite, and cancer cells. This is backed up by studies on chronic disease, demonstrating that emotional expression of anger and grief are correlated with improved survival and faster recovery rates in patients! Simply experiencing and expressing your emotions is a powerful healing tool.

With that said, we don’t have many positive role models for these particular emotions, though. When we’ve experienced them in a hurtful way, we perceive them as dangerous and “negative”, especially if we don’t know a better way to express them ourselves. So we push the energy down; we “depress” it (it is theorized that depression isn’t a feeling, it’s an action to stop a kind of feeling).

Here’s a model for how we depress the energy of any kind of painful experience, including uncomfortable emotions: Our body goes into a “fight or flight” response around the energy and walls it off inside the muscles, bones, ligaments, and spinal discs. Our posture distorts around the energy, holding the area still or rigid, because movement stimulates emotion. When someone is overwhelmed, they either hold very still or rock rhythmically and repetitively to soothe themselves. There’s not a lot of range there. Lastly, our innate system decreases higher brain (frontal and pre-frontal lobe) awareness of the area, effectively taking it off of our internal radar.

If we squash it down, tighten around it, and disconnect, it no longer exists, right? Um… no.

Unfortunately, it DOES still exist. The energy and chemistry behind that experience are still right there, just without awareness. Like pulling the plug from an electric guitar, the sound doesn’t come out as loudly… but the strings are still vibrating. “Muting” these uncomfortable emotions is a great short-term strategy to deal with overwhelm for a moment. It’s just a terrible long-term strategy to resolve it, because decreased awareness plus unresolved tension equals long-term pain, loss of function, and disease, not to mention less happiness, less joy, and less ability to stand up for yourself and others.

Why that last one?

We need strong emotional energies, especially those less popular ones, because emotion is the fuel for action in life.

The greater our emotional range, the more actions we can take, and the more equipped we are to deal with change constructively. If we can fully feel the stored emotion without going into fight or flight (staying aware with our frontal lobes) through the process, our higher brain can reassess it and, through perturbation (Check out Iyla Prigogine, thermodynamic physicist, to learn more about “perturbation” in biological systems),  we can evolve our lives through it. Just like carbon under extreme stress can become a diamond, so can we.

Here are a few outcomes of this:

  • Less pain, more mobility, better posture, better ability to fight off disease.
  • We feel stronger and more courageous.
  • We have greater mental clarity, confidence, and ability to grow personally.
  • Since we can’t just squash the negative emotions the whole range gets squashed, so better experiencing the “negative” ones also allows the “positive” ones to return!

To make things clear, I don’t want to glorify anger, rage, and sorrow. Jedi Master Yoda was on to something when he said they could lead to the “Dark Side of the Force” when acted out without awareness and personal responsibility. Alone, they create destruction. With awareness and the full availability of the higher brain, however, they can be transformed into fuel for amazing changes.

This is why, in our style of neuro-structural Network chiropractic care, we only increase the range of motion, stimulation, and access to emotional chemistry of specific areas of your spine (Spinal Gateways) that are deemed clinically ready for that range of motion. We aim to ensure that only the parts that are neurologically ready to “come out and play” – aka engage with the awareness of the central nervous system – can do so.

This is also why we emphasize somatic awareness – building a link between your body experience and your conscious mind – by offering Somato Respiratory Integration (SRI) workshops as part of your care. In this case, SRI Stage 2 of is a very useful and important tool to be aware of the somatic anchors to our “emotional buttons” so we can help get the autonomic nerve system’s “charge” off of these regions and the related stress. We want you to have a full range of spinal motion, emotion, and awareness at the same time.

When we start to see things clearly, we can use our emotions masterfully… instead of being mastered by them.

It can help someone better adapt to stressful times, make new choices, be inspired to act when you wouldn’t have before, break through conditioned habits of “learned helplessness”, end pain, and win a battle for their lives. It also can allow people to stand up for just causes powerfully AND peacefully. Truly there’s a magic in this.

As one of my friends and mentors, Dr. Daniel Knowles, says: “There’s magic in a healthy spine.” A spine that allows your full range of emotion – even the uncomfortable ones – can create some powerful healing magic so that you can live a full and amazing life.

Resources and References:
“Emotional Dimensions of Chronic Disease”
“Neuropeptides: Active Participants in Regulation of Immune Responses in the CNS and Periphery”
“Somato Respiratory Integration Workbook”

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